Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ya Shi (duck shit) and Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong from the Lin farm

the Lin farm Mi Lan version, the right general look

I'll come right out with it; trying these teas was the closest I've been to having a religious experience related to tea, like starting over again.  The better versions of Cindy's teas are the only ones I can compare them to, also a bit transcendent, and I do actually make a direct side by side comparison with one of hers in this post.  I was never under the illusion that I am familiar with the best versions of almost any types, and I'm fine with exploring teas organically, pursuing whatever seems most interesting next, drinking teas from different quality levels.  I'm not very far along in general with Dan Cong, so it doesn't come as a surprise to try some examples from the next level.

A chance internet contact offered to send these samples for review, from the Lin tea farming family.  Of course that is a nice part about being a tea blogger.  It's not as nice when teas are good but not really favorites, harder to place in regards to aspects not relating to preferences, or how to describe limitations in the teas.  Those things don't come up in this post; if anything I might switch over to a bit too much of a subjective take.

One might wonder about family history, how long they've been making tea, if there is more to the story to tell, but this post will focus on tea review.  I'm confident the story is what one would like to hear, about production on all levels drawing on generations of tea making.  I'm sure decades have went into honing specialized skills to make the tea, that it is truly organically produced, as described, and so on.

The way that networking worked out seems typical; the family member that I talked to is a more internet savvy younger daughter in a traditional tea farming family.  Their Facebook page has 96 friends in common so I'm guessing that their tea is probably a relatively open secret.  But the end customers that have tried it would probably not typically know details related to the original source.

There is more I could say than I will here about these teas, about the naming, types, or processing style (eg. level of roast), or related to cultivar types, organic farming, brewing method, etc.  The post runs long covering multiple comparison tastings, so I'll stick to only that, after a short introduction to types.

Even the name of the Lin farm Mi Lan Xiang version would take more unpacking than I'll go through; it was labeled as a "Qing Xiang Mi Lan Dan Cong."  A vague Tea Spring vendor reference identifies a tea with the first name as "a variety of lightly oxidized Song Zhong Dan Cong," which doesn't shed much light on it.  This Tea Guardian reference describe Qing Xiang Fenghuang Dan Cong--Feng Huang is the name Cindy uses for the type instead, meaning "phoenix"--as "literally clear fragrance Phoenix single bush — aka bouquet style Phoenix oolongs, floral style Phoenix “single bush” oolongs."  Another reference by the same site divides styles of Dan Cong into two groups, but that sort of categorization tends to not match in different reference sources.

An old Tea Obsession blog post goes into Dan Cong naming, not really fully clarifying use of those names but spelling out some more background and types.  That post points out that Song Zhong is used to mean different things, most generally "old tree" in reference to a past dynasty name, but used inconsistently so still non-specific.  So onto what the teas are like instead.

First review:  Lin farm Qing Xiang Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong

the lighter roast stands out even in the dry leaves

I tried this tea first since I've reviewed another good version of this type recently (Cindy's), which would make it easier to place.  I compare it directly to that tea in a second round of tasting here.

The scent of the dry tea was intriguing, and on tasting the rinse I already knew this tea was one of the best Dan Cong I ever tried, maybe even one of the best teas I ever tried.  There was plenty to the fruit and floral range, honey orchid and peach, or perhaps apricot, even a touch of roasted almond.  Sweetness, complexity, and clean flavors stood out most.

leaves look different in different lighting

It's not that far off the version of the same type Cindy sent not too long ago, maybe just prepared differently, a little off the bright fruit effect to accentuate a warm roasted quality.  That's nothing like even the mid-level roasts in Wuyi Yancha, not just different for basic starting-point flavors but also different in aspects drawn out.  It tastes absolutely nothing like "char," and is light roasted compared to Wuyi Yancha styles, but the typical range is lower related to roasting, with finer levels of variation in that for Dan Cong.

There might be potential for them to have prepared this tea differently but per my initial judgement there is no space left to improve upon it; it's essentially perfect as it is.  Listing aspects and drawing on indirect impressions other ways won't really bring that across, but that's how reviewing goes, so I'll continue on with it.

The flavor of the tea extends well beyond drinking it; it might even get a little stronger right after swallowing it.  Astringency is exactly where it should be; quite limited, barely adding a faint edge to the tea.  There isn't much for "tartness," present in some degree for typical types, maybe just a hint that offsets the much more pronounced sweetness well, but really barely any.

The tea is aromatic.  It wasn't so long ago that wouldn't have meant so much to me; most of taste in terms of complex flavors is carried through scent, so in a sense every tea is aromatic.  But some more so than others; a vague centering of experience can occur in that range for some teas more so than for others.  This post on comparing Jin Jun Mei versions might help explain that, or really only my own take, still a work in progress.

It seems like I'm just saying that it's a great example of the tea type, both the general type and this specific flavor version, Mi Lan Xiang, honey orchid aroma, and it surely is.  The final effect is about the balance of those aspects coming together, not so much about what those are individually.  Tasting comparison with a similar tea could help define both, and since I didn't feel like I got to the bottom of all the complexity in one go I'll do that next.

Comparing two Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong and one Ya Shi (Duck Shit)

Since I just tried Cindy's tea of the same type I'll taste this version in comparison with that, along with the Ya Shi / "duck shit" version.  It typically works better to compare quite similar teas, to help highlight more minor differences, or else it can just get confusing, with too many differences to be as informative.  Hopefully tasting two types and three teas will still strike a reasonable balance.

Ya Shi / "duck shit" Dan Cong:

This general type seemed interesting enough to draw a lot of media hype awhile back, rare for any subject related to tea, perhaps in part due to the name.

The tea is different, very nice, aromatic, round-flavored.  Breaking this tea into flavor aspects is going to be difficult (something I might not want to keep repeating).  It's generally in the floral range, so there's that, but it seems to have a complex, integrated, positive flavor that won't easily be captured by a flavors comparison list.  The normal descriptors of exceptional tea clearly apply:  clean flavored, complex, with a different version of a full feel typical to the general type (no need to dwell on all that; best to stick to these teas, and with three versions to cover easier to stick more to flavors description).

brewed Ya Shi leaves

The flavors range reminds me of root and bark spices.  I tend to reference sassafrass since that's essentially the only one I remember, but it's not that close a match for sassafrass, and definitely not so close to cinnamon, the only bark spice I'm now familiar with.  During a decade plus of drinking various tisanes--herb teas, to some--I crossed paths with lots of others, but I wasn't writing reviews then, or keeping track for any particular reason, and I probably wouldn't be able to refer back to a tisane that I drank over a decade ago anyway.  Or maybe I could, if keeping those sorted back then had seemed more of priority.

The tea definitely includes floral range, I'm just at a loss to mention a specific flower.  I suppose it's perhaps somewhere in the orchid range, just a warmer, richer aspect than honey orchid might be.  Or so I'd guess; I drink teas that are supposed to taste like honey orchid, enough I feel like I have a sense of what that means, but I don't remember smelling one.  More on this tea's transition through different infusions after roughing out the basics on the other two.

Lin Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong compared to Cindy's version:

Cindy's Mi Lan version, in a similar range

Both teas are so nice, both quite different.  On first taste Cindy's comes across as a bit brighter and sweeter, with more dramatic flavor profile, more intense, but in the same general direction.  That could sound like I'm saying it's better, and it would be for some people, but it's not quite that simple.  Having a warmer, more subtle and spice oriented flavor profile isn't necessarily a bad thing for the other tea.  Actually it's fantastic, just in a different sense.  In a way that also maps onto the difference between the Dan Cong version types, with the Lin's Mi Lan Xiang brighter, sweeter, and more intense, with the Ya Shi more subtle, but giving up nothing related to being complex, positive, and enjoyable.

In a sense I'm implying the Lin Mi Lan Xiang is somehow "between" the other two teas in terms of flavors range, and that sort of works, although the spatial analogy only goes so far.  To be more specific, the Lin farm version of Mi Lan Xiang leans towards the Ya Shi version in terms of warmth, and including a bit of the root / bark spice range.  These descriptions seem a bit rough to me though; the teas flavors are basically floral, nothing like brewing spices, I'm just using that to describe real aspects and to place the range.

I didn't notice it before but I'm picking up a similar range of nutmeg, in the Lin Mi Lan tea just a little, a spice that itself seems complex to me, not a simple taste at all.  It doesn't do the tea justice to say that it's nice.  All three are absolutely amazing teas, just in completely different ways.  It's odd how much variation there is in the two teas of a relatively similar type, which stands out a lot more tasting them together.

the look varies with parameters, yellow to light gold in general

There is a touch of spice adding complexity to Cindy's tea version, just very little in the background, likely brought out more by the power of suggestion, looking for it.  But the focus is on the bright floral range, with a little drift into stone-fruit territory (peach / apricot, not so distinct I'd say either one but for a more standard list-style review I'd just list both).  That trace of tartness and mild astringency (mild in good versions) is more pronounced in Cindy's tea, a balance that really works.  Then again I'm also loving how soft and full the other teas are, and of course the mind-blowing complexity.

It's not my place to speculate but I'm wondering how the Lin family made teas like this.  Of course the starting point must have been positive, the leaves, surely properly harvested from very happy, thriving tea trees (old, growing at elevation, all of that), but lots of things must have went right in processing too.  Cindy's family's tea is also great but more like a better version of other teas I've tried, but something fundamentally different in character is going on with those others.  It could be tied to different leaf sourcing, but it seems likely it's a result of a lot of factors coming together, with processing steps as a major input.

Cindy's Mi Lan brewed leaves

The depth of experience of tasting the Lin Mi Lan Xiang defies description (but then I was going to stop saying that).  It's like that first time you try a really nice Anxi Tie Kuan Yin, or Taiwanese light oolong, or Wuyi Yancha.  It feels like turning to a new page, a sort of "now I get it."  Astringency and tartness are not significant aspects of those teas, and the flavors scope extends to spice, or so I'm interpreting it.  But it's really not about a few positive aspects, the novelty relates to the overall experience.

The flavors do transition a bit, for all these teas, but it ends up being a lot to write about.  The Ya Shi might be drifting a little into a more typical range for Dan Cong, showing a bit of that flower-stem type nature that gives them a slight tanginess, just not much, the tea remains quite soft but full in feel and flavor.  It seems to be the case that the longer infusion times required after lots of infusions (in the range of ten) draws out more of that aspect, something I'd noticed the day before in tasting the other tea initially.

Odd that Cindy's tea seems to soften instead, after a lot of brewing; that might mean more to someone else.  The Lin Mi Lan Xiang stays in the same range but changes, shifting balance between the floral and spice tones.  The honey sweetness in the Ya Shi changes a little, with "honey" really too non-specific, so that a more detailed description reference used by someone familiar with different types of honey seems more in order.  I taste different tropical versions here, based on wide variations in flowers, but to me it's just honey, and then a different kind of honey.

Brewing variations would likely bring out lots of different aspects, and over multiple tastings appreciation of minor aspects or even awareness of different levels to appreciate would probably develop.  I've talked mostly about flavors here but there is more going on to appreciate; the aftertaste component is significant, and the feel is nice, lots more going on with that.

In none of these cases are there negative aspects to discuss or brew around.  All the teas could hardly be said to improve or diminish over infusions, they just change.

As far as my favorite of the three, that would be hard to say.  The novelty of the character of the Lin teas gave them a slight edge over Cindy's, but it would be hard to choose between them, and a preference choice might change with more exposure.  The Ya Shi / duck shit was a bit more subtle, not the kind of tea one tasting really takes in, but the Mi Lan gave up nothing in terms of complexity, and the range of aspects overlapped a little.  I feel lucky just to try teas like these three.


  1. da wu ye and milanxiang are my favorite tea

  2. I'm looking forward to trying other samples, seeing what the others are like. I suspect all of the versions will sort of be favorites.

  3. I tasted probably the same Mi Lan Xiang together with some very experianced tea geeks. We came to similar conclusions and I think this tea will even improve with some proper maturing. The main differnce to Cindy's (and other farmers) version is that Lin's Mi Lan Xiang is made from old tea bushes (lao cong). But is also a big achievement the tea master to get the maximum out of the tea leaves. The same applies for her versions of Ya Shi Xiang, Ba Xian and Xin Ren Xiang.

  4. There was just a Tea Chat discussion about these teas, or ones from the same vendor, which raises some interesting questions. One part relates to the "probably" in your comment; hard to know if different versions weren't distributed for different reasons. Producers make different batches from different locations so it's not just deceitfulness that would cause that; they can't give everyone every tea, and would have their own reasons for what goes where. Their comments on that forum were quite negative, while I liked the teas (one less due to type preference, not in this post). I don't think I've tried so many Dan Cong I can put it on a scale related to what else is out there; that's just my impression. I've tried some others, it's not completely uninformed, and eventually common themes in aspects across types start to repeat. But I don't know what was going on in this case.